Friday, May 18, 2018

Is Lean Six Sigma Right for You?

By: Anna Stefos

A few weeks ago, The Center’s Brian Mamo wrote about great food pairings as a way to define the combination of “sales” and “marketing” into “smarketing.” An equally dynamic pairing provides manufacturers with valuable tools for reducing waste and improving quality as well as efficiency: Lean and Six Sigma.

What Does “Lean” Mean?
Coming from the Toyota Production System in Japan in the 1990s, the Lean methodology aims to eliminate anything that does not add value in a given process by targeting variation and defects. With an emphasis on standardization, the goal of Lean is to eliminate variation caused by human operators to improve both quality and efficiency in a factory. A variety of Lean tools, from 5S to Kaizen to Value Stream Mapping, can be used to identify and measure production problems, implement standard systems, and continuously monitor production to automatically know when an issue arises. Due to its ability to maximize profitability and eliminate waste while increasing value for the customer, Lean has become a widely-used methodology among manufacturers of all sizes.

The Six Sigma Side
Six Sigma was originally introduced to the United States in the late 1980s after proving its success at Motorola. Six Sigma is a statistical approach to diminishing variation in production, with the goal of achieving no more than 3.4 errors per one million opportunities. This method of analysis targets true process variation – rather than man-made variation – to improve things like process yield, down time, etc. This is accomplished by identifying the underlying causes of issues in production to eliminate defective processes and ultimately improve the effectiveness of business practices.

A Powerful Pairing: Lean Six Sigma
Taking Lean’s focus on adding value and eliminating waste, and Six Sigma’s emphasis on reducing process variation, Lean Six Sigma is created. This comprehensive methodology brings together the best of both tools, combining statistical analysis with standardization to make for the most effective production transformation possible. Although these techniques have slight differences in how they approach problems, they each seek to accomplish the same things: reduce waste and variation in business processes to maximize profit and customer satisfaction.

The application of Lean Six Sigma unfolds in just a few steps. First, Lean principles are applied to identify the eight different kinds of waste in a company’s processes and eliminate them, along with all man-made variations in production. Once these elements have been removed, Six Sigma methodologies are applied to identify any remaining process variations and, from there, reduce defects and improve business practices.

Although many companies utilize Lean and Six Sigma separately, they have more power when used together. Manufacturers who have applied Lean Six Sigma have realized greater and more prolonged impacts compared to using only Lean or Six Sigma. By combining methodologies, workers are equipped with more tools for fixing problems, essentially maximizing the opportunity for improvement. The benefits and effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma have been proven over decades of use, making it a popular management technique and a viable option for your company to consider utilizing in the future.

Mastering Lean Six Sigma: It All Starts with a Belt
When it comes to implementing Lean Six Sigma, having a strong understanding of the central ideas behind each methodology is necessary to achieve success. Recognizing this, The Center has developed a fundamental training course called Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt to assist all levels of an organization in developing the skills necessary to participate in Six Sigma initiatives. This unique, introductory-level course serves as a preface to the Belts of Six Sigma, ideal for manufacturers looking to learn more about Lean Six Sigma or contribute to Six Sigma projects in a supportive role. Those who attend this three-day course can learn how to implement, perform, interpret and apply Lean Six Sigma principles in a skilled, yet limited, context, with a focus placed on the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method and basic Lean Six Sigma teachings.

If you are interested in attending a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt class, or would like to learn more about the offering, view the upcoming course schedule.

If you have already started your Lean Six Sigma journey, view the schedule for our Lean Six Sigma Green Belt courses and other upcoming Six Sigma training.

Anna Stefos
Operational Excellence Manager

Anna Stefos has a diverse background in automotive spanning 20 combined years at GM and FCA, ranging from international manufacturing to product development, strategic planning, program management, corporate strategy and international operations. Anna’s experience in partnering with C-level executives provides a strong foundation for and advising small and medium-sized companies to achieve Enterprise Transformation and propel them towards Operational Excellence. Anna has a passion for Lean Six Sigma and is a trained Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tactical Deployment: The Real Strategic Plan

By: Ron Quinkert

Now that we’re five months into the year, it’s safe to say that most of us have long-abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions. Whether we were hoping to lose weight, get better sleep or save more money, we probably forgot about our 2018 missions just about as soon as the new year started. This is not due to laziness or lack of time, however, but because we did not establish a tactical plan for meeting our goals.

Take, for example, the goal of trying to lose weight. If your resolution was to get healthier and shed some weight, but you did not own a scale or establish a workout regimen, it would have been nearly impossible for you to achieve any real results. Without a tangible goal in mind, complete with steps for how to get there and measurements of progress, these visions are useless.

To successfully turn any goal into a reality, you need to understand the importance of tactical deployment. This is the practice of establishing specific and measurable plans for achieving a larger strategic goal (learn more about strategic and tactical planning here).

The significance of tactical deployment is especially substantial when it comes to business planning, as it could mean the difference between your company reaching or falling short of its strategic goals. To understand how tactical deployment can help your company achieve its goals, let’s look at two companies that each had the vision of improving profitability.

Company 1: All Strategy and No Bite
This company places a strong emphasis on creating long-term visions for the company to achieve but does not put any energy into attaching realistic goals or measurements to these ideas. Although they make it a priority to “improve profitability,” there is no established time-frame in which to achieve this, no identified areas to target and no outlined steps in place to achieve this goal. The company continues to operate as usual and hope for the best, with no real plan for how to achieve results. The strategic vision cannot be achieved and is ultimately useless without tactical deployment.

Company 2: Using Tactical Plans to Get Results
This company sees much more success with their “improve profitability” initiative due to their devotion to tactical deployment. Working with this vision in mind, this company develops SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound – that create tangible steps to closely follow in order to realize the vision of improved profitability. With these concrete goals in place to address the when, how, who, why and what of this vision, there is no reason this company can’t achieve the results they’re hoping for.

The First Step to Tactical Deployment
Companies of all sizes and types must tackle tactical deployment if they want to realize true success. Whether your organization is looking to grow the company, improve customer satisfaction or boost profitability, the first step always is to assess your business and understand which areas need improvement in order to reach your end goal.

Need extra help getting started? The Center offers a free Transformation Planner that can help any company identify which areas to target first to ultimately reach their goals. For further assistance, experts at The Center can work with you to decide how to move forward and put an effective tactical deployment plan in place to finally make your company’s visions into a reality.

Learn more about how to successfully reach your business goals at The Center's upcoming free Strategic Planning event on May 15 from 8:30am to 10:30am.

Ron Quinkert
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Ron Quinkert is a Senior Business Solutions Manager with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and has 20 years of automotive sales and manufacturing experience. He works directly with manufacturers in seven Southeast and Central Michigan counties. Ron is a seasoned professional with expertise in team building, automotive product and manufacturing processes, tool design, operational audit practices, procedures and improvements.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 4, 2018

Automation and the Workforce: Addressing the 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

By: Chuck Werner

Discussions of the Industry 4.0 technologies among small to medium enterprises usually take one of two paths. The first is a politely positive path where everyone ignores the impact these advancements will have on the human workforce. This is what is known as ignoring the “elephant in the room,” where there is an obvious problem at hand, but no one wants to address it.

The other is usually approached more fearfully, as if we were crawling into a cage with a seething Silverback. Down this path, we are often keenly aware of the presence of this “800-pound gorilla,” but we feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. As we see it, the robots are waiting to take everyone’s jobs and we the “people” will be completely displaced.

In each of these approaches, nobody wins. Refusing to talk about something never results in a resolution, while ignoring it out of fear poorly serves both the business and the people who are part of it.

The truth is, there are some jobs where machines cannot compete with a human, and it will be a long while before they can. Frankly, there are some jobs where the cost to automate does not provide a sufficient return on investment to make it worthwhile. Also, robots cannot match the dexterity of a human. Operations that require fine manipulation and sensitivity are still beyond the ability of any automaton. Additionally, many jobs require critical thinking, judgement and the ability to react to unusual outcomes. It is true that analytics have come a long way, but most examples of “artificial intelligence” are still just programmed responses defined by expected inputs. Humans are much better at handling the unforeseen and possess a greater ability to adapt and overcome. Lastly, most people are still vastly superior at interacting with their fellow humans. When was the last time you enjoyed hearing “Press 1 for…”?

On the other hand, there are jobs where automation makes sense. Tasks involving simple repetitive movements, harsh environments, heavy lifting and poor ergonomic positions are prime candidates for the application of robotics. These are often positions where companies have difficulty hiring or in which they see high turnover. These jobs lack the ability to challenge and stimulate the human mind. Other times the low rate of pay offered to perform such simple tasks makes them unappealing. In regions where competition for dependable employees is high, these jobs are not seen as promising enough to entice potential employees to relocate.  Lastly, many millennials are simply not keen on the idea of factory work.

Automation-friendly jobs also include those primarily composed of non-value-added activities. Transporting or moving an object from point to point – or a “lift and tote” job – is one example. Another is sending someone out to collect information or “go and see.” The use of technology and analytics not only provides real-time data, but also presents the information in a usable format to decision-makers without long hours of entry and analysis. Freeing employees from performing these wasteful tasks allows them to spend their time on more value-added functions. It also enables them to perform a function at which the human mind excels: identifying and implementing improvements to a product, process or service.

Some jobs will continue to be performed by humans as much as they always have. Or, they will still be performed by people, but with assistive technology to allow for greater effectiveness and efficiency. And, as time goes on, and technology continues to improve, and the cost to implement it continues to decrease, some jobs will be given over to automation. Ignoring this fact will only put your company at a disadvantage.

There are several things that any business should be doing to prepare for success in these ever-changing times:

The management team should take an honest look at what isn’t – but should be – happening around the workplace. It isn’t unusual for activities like equipment upkeep, training, auditing, quality checks and other important tasks to be postponed or even ignored in the face of task saturation or trying to ensure on-time delivery. Additionally, most people find themselves so busy working in the process that they are never able to identify time to work on it. Technology provides the opportunity to eliminate these non-value-added and time-consuming tasks. This time can then be invested in enabling team members to focus on the upkeep, control and improvement of product or process.

Within the company, the leadership team will want to invest in improving the skillsets of their team members. In some instances, the implementation of technology will create the need for new positions to install, operate and maintain it. Support and mentoring will also need to be provided for the workforce to be able to capably adopt and utilize these technologies. More importantly, the goal is to elevate the work force from mere process operators to creative process improvers. This may require additional training and skills that may not have been provided to front-line positions within the organization. Skills like root cause analysis, lean tools, and process improvement will be needed in the advanced manufacturing environment.

On a larger scale, businesses will need to partner with local educational entities to promote interest and training on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills for our future workforce. The mismatch in demand versus supply of these abilities is already creating many employment gaps. Studies show that there will be roughly one million programming jobs unfilled by the year 2020. The construction industry anticipates around the same number of positions available in that same timeframe. And the benefit isn’t just in those industries or simply with jobs involving STEM skills. Studies also estimate that for every STEM-related job created, 4.3 jobs in local goods and services industries are generated.

If businesses choose to ignore their elephants or gorillas (or lions or tigers or bears – oh my), one thing is certain: others will collect on the opportunities these new technologies provide and become dominant in their fields. But if you engage now and employ those assistive technologies that make good business sense for you, your company will not only achieve success for the business but provide greater job satisfaction for the teams. You also will help pave the way for the workforce of the future.

To learn more about how Industry 4.0 technologies can work with your company rather than against it, come to The Center's free Industry 4.0 EXPLORE event on May 10 from 8:30am to 10:30am.

Chuck Werner
Lean Program Manager

Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, April 27, 2018

Revenue Going Up, Profits Going… Down?

By: George Singos

Your company is working harder than ever before, with higher sales and faster production leading to the largest increase in revenue you’ve seen so far. Yet somehow profits are less than they were last year. How could this be?

This is a common tale among manufacturers. While revenue experiences a huge boost, net profits remain stagnant or nosedive. The potential issues driving this imbalance are endless, with anything from improper planning, constant schedule bumping or steep overhead costs often holding profits back. Regardless of the reason, net profits are not as high as they could be.

Fortunately, there are many ways to get profits back where they should be. One such method is to focus on increasing gross margin by substantially reducing the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). If done effectively, this transformation can eliminate major costs within your operations, resulting in higher profits than you previously thought possible.

Which Costs to Cut: The Biggest Offenders
With so many expense areas available to target, this wide opportunity for improvement may leave you wondering, “Which areas should I target first?” or “What should I focus on to get the biggest returns?”

When it comes to cutting your COGS, here are five of the best areas to target to ensure your company sees an increase in profits:
  • Estimated vs. Actual COGS. Are you meeting your estimated COGS? Or are your predicted COGS simply impossible to meet in the first place? This variance in budget could be the source of some major losses in your net profits.
  • Schedule Bumping. Changes in your schedule should be kept to a minimum. Constantly being interrupted in the middle of a project or task with a new task to complete, whether it takes two minutes or two hours, can immensely impact productivity and decrease value added. The associated costs with this consistent starting and stopping of work can be substantial.
  • Changeover. Lengthy changeover times are often contributors to decreased productivity and production. Are your changeovers as effective and fast as they could be? It is worth analyzing your changeover processes to ensure they are not a source of excessive costs.
  • Scrap and Rework. Another large contributor to waste and slower production is scrap and rework. Failure to fully capture scrap and measure rework can result in budget issues. With these aspects under control, some variations in profit can be resolved. 
  • Direct and Non-Direct Labor. Are your operators being set up for success? It should be a priority of non-direct employees to support all direct labor (operators) within your organization. Get them the assistance and help necessary from other workers to ensure they can add as much value to production as possible and maximize productivity – and profits. 
It is possible for any manufacturer to increase both revenue and net profit by targeting areas such as these and improving business operations. Use these tips to help your company reach its full potential and get the profits you should be yielding.

For a first-hand look at how to boost profitability for your company, register for a free Strategic Planning workshop at The Center. See our upcoming line-up of workshops here.

George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is the Business Leader Advisor for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. He has accumulated more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in Business Development, Sales & Marketing Management, Project Planning, Quality Management, Costing and Scheduling. Prior to joining The Center, George worked in International Business Development, where his primary focus was growing International Sales in Europe and East Asia while supporting North American, South American and ASEAN operations.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, April 20, 2018

What A Good Boss Does (According to a 4-Year-Old)

By: Charlie Westra

It can be hard to pin down exactly what a good boss does, and even more difficult to become one. For most managers, this is an ongoing process of learning from others and evolving in the hopes of becoming a true leader. But maybe this journey of growing into a great boss isn’t as complicated as you think. Perhaps it’s so simple that even a small child knows what a good boss should be doing.

For those of you who have kids, this scenario will be easy to picture. When my son Carter was four years old, our bedtime routine consisted of reading two books in the hopes that he would finally calm down enough to get to sleep. One night during this routine, while Carter was jumping around his room cleaning up toys and trying to pick out a book (read: delaying sleep), he started the following conversation:

Carter: “Daddy, you have a new boss.”

Me: “Who’s that?”

Carter: “Mommy.”

Me: “That’s interesting… Hey Carter, what does a boss do?”

I laughed a little, anticipating a response having to do with bossing around or yelling.

Carter: “A boss protects you.”

This answer caught me by surprise – and gave me goose bumps because it was so profound. I wanted to hear more.

Me: “What else does a boss do?”

Carter: “A boss helps you.”

What?! Helps me? This was particularly shocking to me, as I have had many bosses (if not all) who never did anything to help me.

Me: “Wow, they help you? What else does a boss do?”

Carter: (Whispering) “Buys you Star Wars toys…"

This answer wasn’t as surprising.

While this is a funny story, it contains a serious lesson about what a good boss – and leader – should be doing to effectively lead their team.

Do you protect your employees? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce identified “Management Loyalty to Workers” as a top 10 desire of employees at every level of an organization. Do you back up your employees? Do you support their decisions and show them how to learn from their mistakes?

Do you help your employees? As leaders, we are responsible for helping those in our team. A common mistake made by many bosses is thinking their success alone dictates the team’s success. It is only by removing roadblocks to an employee’s success that the team can be as effective as it should be. An effective team must go out of their way to help each other succeed.

Do you know what your employees’ Star Wars toys are? Yes, this one applies too. Find what motivates your team. It may be expressing a simple thank you, or getting to know someone personally, or including them in shop-related decisions. Find out what motivates each individual team member and, if it’s within your power to provide, do it.

Sometime in our lives, each of us had a person who took the time to get to know us, gave us opportunity and picked us up when we made mistakes. Everyone has somebody – whether it’s a family member, teacher, coach, boy/girl scout leader, military officer or church leader; we can see their faces, we remember their names. There is no reason why, 10 years from now, you cannot be the face someone remembers as their respected leader. All it takes is helping, protecting and, finally, Star Wars toys.

Want more tips for becoming a great leader? Register for my upcoming webinar, The Journey to Great Leadership Starts with You, on May 22 from 12pm-1pm. Read more here.

Charlie Westra
Growth Services Program Manager

As the Growth Services Program Manager at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center), Charlie’s expertise spans many areas. In his role, Charlie is responsible for developing organizational growth strategies, providing management consulting, and building effective teams. Specializing in improving employee engagement with supervisory skills and leadership development, Charlie works collectively and individually with management and sales teams to develop customized workplace tools to fit specific needs and goals. His mission is to assist companies in producing sustainable, positive results.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, April 13, 2018

Struggling to Embrace Lean Culture? Here’s Why.

By: Mike Beels

People don’t like change. Learning new ways of doing things and adopting new technology can be a scary proposition. I often have clients ask, “Why do we need to change, we are already working hard?” or, “We are already profitable, why change?” The unfortunate answer is that you cannot avoid change; everything changes over time. Instead of avoiding change out of fear or stubbornness, you must embrace it if you want to keep improving.

Remember when eight-track players were first created, totally revolutionizing the way we listened to music in our cars? What could be better than listening to your favorite music whenever you wanted, instead of waiting for it to come on the radio. We thought it was the peak of individualized listening. Then came cassettes. Then CDs, then MP3s, and now we have Sirius radio and Spotify. What’s next? Only the future knows.

Neglecting to use Spotify may not be as detrimental as neglecting to incorporate changes in your facility, but the point remains the same: you must be able to embrace change. If not, you could be committing professional suicide. In his program titled “The Business of Paradigms,” Joel Barker, a technology and business futurist and the bestselling author, speaks to the fear of making changes in business. His message reminds viewers that even if they are already the leader in their market, someone else can find a better, newer way to produce X at any moment, quickly taking over their spot at the top. If you want to improve your service and remain competitive, innovation is necessary.

Make It Count: 3 Ways to Ensure Change is Successful
Following this initial, monumental step of deciding to change, leaders must then figure out how to incorporate and implement change within their facilities. All change begins and ends with employee support, making employees an integral role in the success of your transformation. When starting any new initiative, first ask yourself the question, “How can I make my employees see the need for change?” Let’s explore the answer to this question by looking at the example of how to successfully transition to a lean culture.

Although there is no magic dust or silver bullet to instantly transform the culture, there are several key elements that can help make this transition effective.
  1. Leadership is one of the keys to a successful culture transition. Those leading an organization must provide full support to a lean transformation, as they are in charge of commanding the resources. Leaders should be completely committed to this change. If employees can see that it is not a priority for leaders, they will not make it a priority for themselves. Additionally, leaders must commit to this change for the right reasons, not just because “lean” is the latest buzzword or because a customer asked them to do it. 
  2. Communication is another key. Effective communication requires more than an occasional meeting or speech. Nearly every organization tells me, “We don’t communicate!” Between functional silos (engineering, quality, manufacturing, etc.), between departments, between shifts, between hourly and salary employees, there is little to no communication. Lack of sufficient communication among employees and departments will quickly lead to the downfall of a lean culture change. You must communicate why the change is important and, more specifically, how it will affect each worker. If you simply make changes on the shop floor without including all departments in the loop, you will be met with resistance. Employees need to be tuned in to W.I.I.F.M. (What’s In It For Me?) to truly understand and support the need for change. Five-minute stand up meetings and town hall meetings are two commonly used venues for communicating, and each is highly effective. Five-minute stand ups will often include what happened yesterday, what is expected today and what operators need for the future. Town hall meetings are more than just a slideshow on the state of the business. If done correctly, these gatherings not only provide employees with key information, but also provide them the opportunity to bring up issues or questions they have. 
  3. Training is an important aspect that cannot be forgotten. I have witnessed organizations completely fail in their lean transitions because they did not provide lean training for everyone in the organization. Basic training in lean methodologies is necessary for all workers, and should eventually be made part of orientation for new employees. Additionally, as employees begin to participate in kaizen events, more in-depth training will be necessary. For instance, if the kaizen charter called for an event featuring 5S and Visual Management or Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED), the participants would need to be trained specifically in those disciplines to be successful.
When considering the move to a leaner environment, you must first ask yourself if your organization is ready to provide the leadership, communication and training necessary. Only then will your organization truly be able to realize success in adapting to change.

Mike Beels
Lean Program Manager

Mike Beels has served in the role of Lean Program Manager for the Lean Business Solutions Team at The Center for more than 12 years. Mike’s areas of expertise include Change Leadership, Workforce Engagement and Succession Planning, as well as the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methodologies. He is a professional trainer and has the ability to command an audience and deliver the training message in a way that participants can understand in a clear, non-threatening manner. Mike always leaves trainees excited and ready to complete training transfer to the shop floor or office.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, April 6, 2018

Manufacturing Education Gets a Face-Lift with LIFT

By: Elliot Forsyth

There’s no question that one of the biggest concerns we hear from our clients is finding and keeping good employees. Unfortunately, this situation is likely to only get worse. In the next decade, it is expected that of the nearly 3.5 million open U.S. manufacturing jobs, roughly 2 million are anticipated to go unfilled due to a gap in skills required for holding such jobs. In other words, students and workers today are not prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

To address this gap, a number of organizations are stepping forward to target the root of the problem: lack of proper education. These groups have begun focusing their efforts on assisting colleges and high schools with how to better align curricula with the needs of the industry workforce. One such organization is Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), a Detroit-based Manufacturing USA Institute that works to develop and deploy advanced lightweight materials manufacturing technologies, as well as implement training programs to prepare students for the modern industry landscape. The goal in developing this training is to prevent the skills gap from growing larger by building workforce strategies and knowledge around new lightweighting technologies.

As lightweighting continues to grow in the manufacturing world, it is important to teach the next generation about the uses, development and science behind such innovations. This need is what drove LIFT, along with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), to establish an Expert Educator Team (EET). The EET is a group of college and university faculty members, all of whom have years of experience and expertise in both materials science and education and workforce preparation. Drawing from this knowledge, the EET works to gather insight and recommend changes or additions to college courses to better target the skills gap and prepare workers for current manufacturing job requirements.

Real Solutions to a Real Problem
What does this look like in reality? The EET is in the process of publishing a series of six reports with comprehensive recommendations for how teachers and professors can modify their curricula to better reflect the knowledge and skills needed for manufacturing jobs dealing with lightweighting technologies, materials and processes. The first and second reports have already been published, which urge educators to focus on developing students’ skills in areas including thin-wall ductile iron castings, powder consolidation processes and agile sheet metal fabrication. These reports include detailed recommendations for what to cover in future training, as well as sources of further learning, including online videos and webinars.

Another source for further learning is the Learning Hub, a joint effort created by LIFT and the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). This resource provides the first nationally relevant, open source online library of lightweighting and composites-related educational materials to be used by educators and students at all levels.

In addition to supporting current students, LIFT also works to help future veterans find civilian careers through Operation Next. This initiative seeks to provide military personnel with high-level training for the most in-demand jobs in advanced manufacturing to ensure their job search is as smooth and easy as possible. This is accomplished through a combination of self-directed virtual learning and hands-on lab work.

Preparing the future workforce for modern manufacturing will be an ongoing challenge, and organizations and initiatives such as these are important components that can have a beneficial impact and help the industry thrive in a global marketplace.

Elliot Forsyth
Vice President of Business Operations

Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 30, 2018

Seeing is Believing with Value Stream Mapping

By: Roger Tomlinson

With all of the moving parts within a manufacturing business (both literal and figurative), it’s easy to lose sight of strategic objectives. What if your management team had a way to actually see all of the goals and processes of your entire organization in one clear visual? Fortunately, value stream mapping provides just such a solution.

This Lean method of management comes from the idea that every process, product and service has a value stream – the chain of activities involved in completing a given task. This activity stream forms the basis for creating a visual map tool, which encompasses all the steps, decisions and people involved in a specific process. By laying out actions in this way, value stream mapping can be used to effectively deploy and monitor your assets and activities.

One type of such mapping is swim lane process mapping, a technique ideal for tracking goal progress and identifying responsibilities at every step of a process. This is accomplished by creating a visual structure that tracks workflow along with the people, places and things that impact it.

Swim lane maps begin with establishing and listing all tasks and sub-processes involved in a particular project, including all decision-making that might affect the workflow. Each “swim” lane then represents a different department to better distinguish and divide capabilities, roles and responsibilities present in all process steps.

The actual labelling of the lanes can be accomplished in a number of ways, with both vertical and horizontal lines included in the visual tool. For example, vertical lanes may represent a sequence of events, while horizontal lanes could depict which department, person or material is involved in an activity, with symbols to show how the actual process workflow takes place.

Once all of this is properly arranged and labelled, the map is used to analyze all steps of the process and categorize them as value added, non-value added, or necessary non-value added. Following this determination, non-value-added steps can be eliminated, and necessary non-value-added steps can be minimized. Laying out the steps in this way can help to identify and eliminate bottlenecks, inefficiencies and redundancies, leading to a faster and more productive workflow.

Swim lane mapping brings issues to the surface that you may not have previously noticed, raising new opportunities for improvement along the way. This seemingly simple management method accomplishes these complicated tasks through:
  1. Guiding processes. Swim lane diagrams provide a comprehensive visual reference tool that allows anyone to easily answer questions such as, “what happens next?” or “who is responsible for this task?” This mapping technique provides a level of operational transparency and accountability that is not otherwise easily achieved.
  2. Encouraging effective communication between process roles. Whether it’s improving production times, installing a new computer system or onboarding new hires, swim lane maps clearly determine areas of responsibility and display how all tasks depend on each other to be completed. This encourages collaboration and communication among departments to ensure all steps are completed effectively and on time.
  3. Identifying each team’s responsibility. This is important for both current and future initiatives. Responsibilities covered in process maps should include every organizational unit involved in a given activity along with any source of input, such as documents, data or approvals, as well as anyone receiving an output from the process.
  4. Providing flexibility. When creating your own swim lane map, you can choose which elements and symbols to include based on your company’s needs and activities. In addition to the standard “start,” “step,” “decision” and “end” symbols, various levels of complexity can be introduced to the map to provide overviews or specific details, and symbols representing outside data, documents or events can be incorporated.
  5. Anticipating future changes. Once areas of improvement are identified through the map, team members can brainstorm ways to address each issue and implement changes. The process does not end there, however, as swim lane maps also can help map out proposed changes to identify potential risks and rewards ahead of time.
This visual management tool can give your company the ability to identify issues and opportunities for improvement that you did not previously know existed, or did not believe to be real problems. With value stream mapping, seeing really is believing.

Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger has been a Program Manager in The Center’s Lean Business Solutions program for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, operations management and process re-engineering). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 23, 2018

Got Powder Metallurgy? Get This…

By: Gregg Peterson

We recently published a blog post detailing the many resources- 114, to be exact- available for manufacturers of all kinds to take advantage of. These resources included anything from websites to publications to blogs to books. But what about something more long-term? Something that you can contribute to and continue to draw resources from? And gain access to exclusive networking opportunities?

Countless established organizations in the manufacturing world exist to deliver these unique benefits to members. One such organization is the Center for Powder Metallurgy Technology (CPMT).

CPMT was originally developed by the United States Department of Commerce as part of a series of cooperative technology programs, with the ultimate goal of promoting the progress of the powder metallurgy industry. With members from across the nation, CPMT continues to conduct research on the latest practices involving this sector of the manufacturing industry. But what exactly does this organization provide to its members? Manufacturers interested in supporting the growth of the powder metallurgy industry can receive the following benefits from joining CPMT:
  1. Participate in Technology Focus Meetings, sponsored by CPMT, as well as access archived Technology Focus presentations. 
  2. Contribute to discussions about certain activities happening at CPMT, such as training programs.
  3. Vote and serve on CPMT’s Board of Trustees. Gain a first-hand look and have a say in how CPMT awards its scholarships and grants, develops its training and conducts its research on the industry.
  4. Network! Current members of CPMT include everyone from end users to manufacturers to powder/equipment providers, including big name companies such as Eaton Corporation, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, John Deere Technology Center and General Motors Corporation.
  5. Receive periodic research reports. CPMT is constantly funding and conducting new research projects to benefit and further support the powder metallurgy industry. Members can gain direct access to past and current project findings to help educate their practices and operations. Overviews of current and past projects can be found on their website, which include:
    • Fatigue testing to investigate the strain-controlled, low-cycle axial fatigue response of steel and aluminum powder metallurgy steel materials and process conditions. CPMT expects to continue gathering data on this topic for several years.
    • Resonant acoustical mixing testing, which involves preparing a variety of high performance mixes using acoustical mixing technology. Samples will be evaluated and compared with traditional mixing techniques. Compacted test specimens also will be evaluated in the green and sintered condition for improved microstructural uniformity and mechanical properties. 
    • Sinter hardening improvement. In this research project, different sintering tray/plate materials will be evaluated to compare microstructure and dimensional stability of powder metallurgy parts during the sinter hardening process. The plate materials involved will be ceramic vs. carbon/carbon fiber.
If all of these benefits sound interesting to you, become a member of the Center for Powder Metallurgy  today and join me at the upcoming spring meeting (members only) from April 17-18 in Detroit to connect with leaders in the powder metallurgy industry and gain access to the exclusive resources this organization provides.

Gregg Peterson
Principal Materials Engineer

As an accomplished engineer, inventor, mentor of emerging talent and successful entrepreneur, Gregg brings an impressive array of expertise and enthusiasm to every endeavor he pursues. In his current role, Gregg works on-site at the Detroit headquarters of Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) as part of a program to propel the use of lightweight materials in manufacturing. Gregg’s OEM and Tier 1 automotive engineering experience spans more than 30 years and includes extensive ferrous and non-ferrous body structure design and innovation, aerodynamics, software controls, manufacturing/processing and more.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 16, 2018

Smarketing: Funny Name, Serious Benefits

By: Brian Mamo

If I asked you to think of the two best things ever put together, you might immediately think of pairings such as peanut butter and jelly, biscuits and gravy, or fish and chips. But what combination really surpasses all others? Smarketing.

Smarketing is the term used to describe an integrated sales and marketing team that effectively works together in a harmonious fashion. It has a funny sounding name, but when Smarketing is in full effect, the impact is serious.

Smarketing may not seem as ground-breaking as fish and chips on the surface, but consider this: Are your company’s sales and marketing teams rarely on the same page? This could be detrimental to your organization as it is nearly impossible to increase revenue and expand your client base when these departments are not integrated. Revenue and client growth can only happen when both teams work together toward shared goals that benefit the entire company.

Once a company acknowledges the importance of this partnership, they can start working on making improvements in their planning. This process might begin with asking the question, how can both teams work together more efficiently? The answer lies in communication. Tear down the silos! If your company is fortunate enough to have a sales and marketing team, it could benefit your team and your company to open up communication and discuss the following topics. Or, if you make up the entire sales and marketing team, then have this conversation with yourself (just make sure no one else is around to witness you talking to yourself).
  1. Understand what a perfect client looks like. Where are they located? Which industries are they in? How are their decisions made? Who makes the decisions, and what are the most common objections?  Have the sales and marketing teams work together to determine what the perfect client looks like, get a list together and determine who your top 100 prospective clients are.  
  2. Sales Team: Show the Marketing folks what the sales funnel looks like. How many touches (any time a prospective client sees your name) does it take for a client to agree to a meeting? How many meetings does it take to provide a proposal? How many proposals does it take to get a sale?  After you do the math (see, you thought you would never use algebra in your sales career), the marketing team will know exactly how many touches it will need to make in order to hit the sales goals of the company. Hopefully by going through this exercise, efficiencies and bottlenecks will be identified.  Now you are getting somewhere...
  3. Get together and discuss what and how frequent these touches should be.  Examples of touches are phone calls, educational blogs, emails, LinkedIn connections, educational events and postcards. Both teams should work to determine the frequency of touches. With an established, consistent plan for implementing touches in place, potential clients will be made more aware of your services for when the need eventually rises (also referred to as drip marketing). 
  4. Build a robust website. It is up to the marketing department to make sure prospective clients have positive experiences with your branding and website. Beyond having an initial touch, prospective clients will look at your website and determine if they want to meet with your sales team based on what should be a professional, educational, easy to navigate and inspiring website.
  5. Have a story. Why choose your company over the competition?  Let prospective clients know why they should work with you. Leave out phrases like "we have the best people, best product/service and best on-time delivery." These characteristics should be assumed about your company, as you wouldn’t still be in business if you didn’t offer good service. Ask your employees to think of a few important elements to add to your story, and share it with your friends, family and business confidants to test its effectiveness.
With all of this integrated communication and work in place, there is no reason your company shouldn’t succeed in reaching prospective clients, getting leads and staying competitive. Contact The Center today to help get your sales and marketing teams working together even better than peanut butter and jelly.

Brian Mamo
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Brian Mamo is a Senior Business Solutions Manager at The Center. In his role, Brian works directly with manufacturers in Macomb County, providing services and support that enable them to compete, grow and prosper. Brian has more than 25 years of experience as a trusted advisor to hundreds of clients in several industries including the manufacturing, industrial, medical and service industries. Prior to joining The Center, Brian spent the past seven years as Director of Business Development and member of the Executive Team of a facility maintenance company. In addition to managing the sales team, Brian worked to redesign the company’s sales and marketing plan while streamlining the sales and operations delivery process.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 9, 2018

Want Big Data? Start Small with Your ERP

By: George Singos

The process of embracing new technology continues to confuse and discourage many small and medium-sized manufacturers. Although there is no established protocol in place for how to successfully transition to utilizing such technologies, the first step for all manufacturers is to understand the needs of their business (read more about this here). With this in place, along with a few of the right tools, this journey can become simpler, cheaper and even exciting. But what kinds of tools are necessary for this?

Much like how a car is needed to travel long distances, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is needed to support company initiatives. While most companies have ERP systems in place, many fail to realize their full potential. They do not understand that such systems can support operations that involve automation and data to drive performance and profitability. Additionally, these systems can integrate with a wide variety of automated equipment and sensors to better manage operations. If used correctly, your ERP system can help your company join the factories of the future.

The Data is Out There. Use It.
It is worth noting that having the right tools in place, such as a strong ERP system, can be useless if the data it provides is not measured and analyzed. Your company could have the most expensive, effective sensor on the market, but it won’t improve your operations unless you fully utilize the data it provides to you. Mastering this step can boost your company’s competitive advantage, help you better manage your operations and increase overall profitability. Although there are endless ways to use big data to improve your business, here are a few essential things you can and should be doing with your data to begin tapping its potential:
  • Monitor and report on your efficiency. This may sound obvious, but many companies fail to track the efficiency of their facilities. To measure this, we typically start with establishing how often the equipment in a given facility is running (producing parts). For example, if a shop is opened 2,080 hours a year, how many hours is the equipment actually making parts per line/cell? Gathering and analyzing this data could help you discover a few important areas of improvement:
    • Is your equipment breaking down too much?
    • Are your set-ups available at the end of a run for the next job?
    • Are you sufficiently staffed and/or do you have a flexible workforce?
  • Track standard costing/variance. Many companies have the ability to compare the estimate and subsequent (i.e., bill of materials) with the actual costs during and after the production run, but they do not always invest time in tracking it. This should be made a priority due to the numerous benefits it can bring your company, such as:
    • Answer the question of, are you operating according to the established standard? If not, your efficiencies and process compliance may be out of control. This typically can be found by looking at the estimated gross margin versus actual gross margin (which, more often than not, is lower).
    • Discover if your estimates are accurate. Even at your best, you might not be meeting the standards set by the estimation department. Many times we see this when outdated estimation labor costs and material are used.
    • Track your scrap properly. Lack of proper scrap tracking appears when ‘bad’ product is returned to inventory, assuming it will be used someday (hint: it won’t), or when the incorrect standard volume of material is used in production.
  • Know your part family/product line profitability. When used properly, your ERP should have the ability to group similar parts together and establish profitability levels by category. An example of where you can use this information is if you have five product lines and one of the families has lower profitability than the others. Your ERP system can provide information to help the sales team quote the products that you are more efficient in producing. This same information can be used to prioritize a continuous improvement plan that can help identify which areas to focus on for future changes.
With basic practices such as these in place, your company will be on the right track to finding success in existing and future technologies.

Lead the Way to the Future
As these technologies and ideas are still so fresh, most manufacturers are only in the beginning stages of transitioning to a modern form of data acquisition. In this era of uncertainty, you may be asking yourself, is my company staying competitive in this changing market? To help answer this, The Center has developed a free Transformation Planner for manufacturers to use, which can determine how effectively your company is performing compared to competitors in the market. You might find you still have a long way to go on your journey to the top, or perhaps you are already leading the way to the factory of tomorrow.

George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is the Business Leader Advisor for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. He has accumulated more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in Business Development, Sales & Marketing Management, Project Planning, Quality Management, Costing and Scheduling. Prior to joining The Center, George worked in International Business Development, where his primary focus was growing International Sales in Europe and East Asia while supporting North American, South American and ASEAN operations.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, March 2, 2018

114 Resources to Power Your Business

By: Jeff Schultz

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and that’s as true today as ever. Thanks to technology, we have unprecedented access to information, to the point where “Google” has become a verb. Need the answer to just about anything? Google it.

This access creates a wide range of opportunities to improve decision-making in many areas of manufacturing, including improved business processes and operations, predictive maintenance, competitive intelligence, sales forecasting, and on and on.

The bottom line is that if we know where the money is going, what processes are the most efficient (or inefficient) or where there are opportunities for growth, we can manage the business from an informed position of strength rather than guessing or gut reactions.

The technological advances related to digitization clearly offer even small manufacturers beneficial data and insights, but that’s a topic that deserves its own blog post (coming soon!).

Recently, we came across an incredibly comprehensive and valuable set of resources for manufacturers. This list was compiled by Stacy Crawley, who handles sales and marketing for Novo Solutions, a provider of highly flexible, web and mobile information management software. Stacy organized 111 websites into eight categories, including:
  • Associations, Organizations, & Sites
  • Publications & Have-it-All Websites
  • Blogs to Subscribe (we’re honored to be included here)
  • Workforce Challenges & Education
  • Forms, Tips, Calculators, and Tools
  • Books/Guides/Manuals/Resources
  • Best Practices & Benchmarking
  • Compliance, Standards, Safety
You can view the resources here, and you will want to bookmark the page for future reference.

Another approach is in-depth or customized research conducted by a third party that is very specific to your organization. As an example, The Center’s Research Services team has access to a variety of private data sources that enable Michigan manufacturers to answer critical questions, implement data-driven tactics and make strategic business decisions. In this case, there are three key areas:  Market research, competitive intelligence and supplier scouting.

Market research has come a long way from being something only large corporations with big budgets could undertake. Today, market research is an organized effort and systematic approach to collect and interpret information about business and industry environments, customers and competitors for the purposes of decision-making.

For many companies, competitive intelligence is needed now more than ever due to rapidly changing technology and the nature of manufacturing in general. This business-specific process involves aggregating information from industry reports, news and trade media, company profiles, government statistics, and other resources to create an accurate portrait of the competitive landscape.

Manufacturers seeking to improve or expand their supply chains increasingly are turning to supplier scouting as a way to connect to companies that offer a tailor-fit solution. With support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), we have access to a unique set of databases and the ability to leverage our statewide network of experts to construct a prioritized list of Michigan companies that match the request of manufacturers of all sizes and all stages of growth.

Clearly, there is no shortage of data that can benefit today’s manufacturer, regardless of size or specialty. The companies that tap into these readily available resources will be those that are better positioned to compete, grow and prosper in an ever-changing environment in the days ahead.

To learn more about our Research Services, visit:

Jeff Schultz
Marketing Manager

Jeff joined the marketing and communications team at The Center in 2016. With more than 20 years of experience, he is responsible for managing the marketing team and ensuring the successful completion of strategic communication initiatives. Jeff started his career with three prominent public relations firms before transitioning to a corporate communications role prior to The Center. Jeff earned his BA in English and Communication from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, February 23, 2018

Anyone Can Satisfy a Customer. But Can You Delight Them?

By: John Spillson

We’ve been conditioned to desire complete and utter satisfaction in everything we receive.  But why should we be content with being only satisfied? Satisfaction is merely accepting the minimum to meet a desired requirement. It would be even better if we could take it up a notch and truly delight our customers, whether they are buying cars, clothing, food, or anything in between. Before we can accomplish this, however, we first need to make sure we have all the right ingredients in place to create a delightful product. 

The Road to Delight
1. Know your customer. First you must answer the question of, who is your customer? Is the customer the individual who consumes your product last?  Is it the store that has purchased your product to put on its shelves?  Is it the distributor that purchased your product for resale? Or could it be the co-worker (or machine) next to you waiting for you to finish your work before they can continue the job?  Too often we fail to recognize that the customer is right next to us. Once you understand who the customer is, you can then determine what you must provide to them to ensure they are delighted, whether they are an end-user or co-worker.

2. Communicate effectively. Lack of communication at any level often leads to diminished results. Do you have a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and are able to fulfill them the first time, every time?  A 90% success rate is not good enough if you are part of the 10% that doesn’t receive what is promised or expected. Adding value and providing exactly what the customer wants, when they want it, pushes past the line of satisfaction and into true customer delight. In this step, it is important to be careful not to over-deliver or waste time and resources on ‘extra processing’ that the customer hasn’t requested or is not willing to pay for.

3. Find the right balance between quality, price and delivery time. A famous saying in the manufacturing world is, “You can have good quality, a good price or quick service, but you can only have two of these.” Why is this? There seems to be a consistent trade-off between these three variables to where if you want something of high quality you must to sacrifice price or timely delivery, or if you want something quickly you must settle for a less quality item, etc. However, in this current industry environment, we should be able to demand all three. Lean strategies, combined with best practices and standard work, can lead to this becoming a reality. Which brings us to number 4…

4. Get Lean. Lean and the world of continuous improvement can help bridge the gap between expectations, satisfaction and customer delight. Henry Ford’s desire to reduce the time taken to produce a product was revolutionary when introduced more than 100 years ago. He recognized that the longer a product took to be produced, the higher the cost involved- and he wanted to do something about it. Henry Ford was on the leading edge of understanding the true benefits that Lean process improvements could bring. Utilizing standard work and single piece flow on the assembly line, he was able to successfully reduce the time it took to produce a final product, while consistently giving the customer a quality product, with a reasonable delivery time, at an affordable price.

When implementing Lean principles, the initial step is usually to complete a process map, which provides a detailed look at the process. Any process. As Lean guru Dr. Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you do as a process then you don’t know what you’re doing.” In developing a detailed process map, each step is laid out to analyze and it becomes easier to identify deficiencies and areas of improvement. This starts the journey toward making corrections, perfecting processes and ultimately delighting customers. Giving the customer exactly what they want, when they want it and at a reasonable cost every time is a realistic and achievable goal when using the right Lean tools.

Satisfaction used to be considered the ultimate goal, but we should strive to go further. In reality, customers rarely tell their friends to try product X because it gave them satisfactory results. I wouldn’t either. I would much rather find a product that pushes past satisfaction into true customer delight.

Does Your Food Pass the (Taste) Test?
These lessons are especially important for manufacturers working in the food industry. It might not be noticeable if a shirt is made with sub-par quality, but customers will immediately know if their food is less than satisfactory. Although all manufacturers should strive to delight, the stakes are raised for food processors.

To gain more insights about how to improve your food manufacturing processes with advice directly from leaders in the industry, come to the 5th Annual Pure Michigan Agricultural Summit on March 14.  The Center also will be taking part in this exclusive event, which makes 35 of Michigan’s most influential food buyers available through pre-scheduled appointment. Several speakers from the Michigan Department of Agriculture as well as Michigan State University will headline the event, discussing the latest trends and innovations in the food industry.

Stop by our table and speak with one of our experienced, passionate professionals to learn more about what The Center has to offer.  From A3 Problem Solving to Website Optimization, The Center has a way to bring sheer delight to your customers through our many customized programs.

John Spillson
Food Business Development Manager

John works to develop and expand the food program at The Center. His experience operating his own business has given him knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. John comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, following both parents and grandparents in operating their own family food businesses. Prior to joining The Center, John owned and operated his own food processing company for more than 20 years. He loves helping food processors almost as much as he loves food itself.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Super Bowl of Manufacturing: Are You Built to Win?

By: Jamie Headley

Whether you are a New England Patriots fan or not, there is no denying they are consistently one of the best performing NFL teams. In fact, they have played in more Super Bowl games than any other team in the league, with a total of 10 games played and five won. But how do they keep up their winning streak? Many people attribute it to them being “built to win.”

What does it mean to be “built to win”? It all comes down to strategy. The Patriots have earned a reputation as being one of the best football teams of our time by having a solid strategy in place, supported by exceptional tactical execution. They win because they have found the perfect balance between strategic and tactical planning.

The Road to Winning
There is a hierarchy to this type of planning that allows companies to be proactive and in control of their overall destiny, rather than reactive to the market or customer demands. Achieving this type of control begins with establishing a clear Mission Statement. The Mission Statement should be a realistic, high-level description of what is important to the company. This lays the foundation for the business.

The company’s sales and operations plan, or business plan, follows the Mission Statement, which is essentially the high-level objectives the company seeks to achieve in support of the Mission Statement. This might include goals such as wanting to increase sales 10%, reduce costs or enter a new market. Once these plans are in place the tactical plan comes into play, which lays out how your company will achieve the goals of the Business Plan. It is absolutely essential to perform these tasks in this order to ensure all high-level goals form the basis of business plans and tactical decisions. This process looks a little like this:

Order is Everything: Why Tactical Must Come Last
A common situation (mistake) I see among companies is that executives generate lists of tactical objectives to immediately accomplish, rather than starting with a strong strategic plan. Although it can benefit a company to accomplish such goals, doing so without being connected to a business plan can reduce the return on investment.

For example, an organization I was working with requested supervisory skills training.  When I asked about the issues they were trying to fix, they explained how supervisors were being stretched too thin, chasing quality issues, double checking paperwork and having to fill in for absent workers.  As I continued to ask questions and listen to the situation, it became clear that the training they were requesting was not going to fix their issues. Although the training would help supervisors better manage their time and communicate more efficiently, it would be akin to putting a Band-Aid on their particular “wound” and would not address the root cause issues. 

I pushed further and asked if they had a business plan outlined, but they admitted they had not had time to create one yet. Instead, using the Mission Statement written on the wall of their lobby as a guide, we went through the key components of their company: Customer Service, Quality, Engaged Workforce, Profitability.  As we talked about each of these elements, the leadership team admitted they were having issues in all of these areas but could not quantify the impact since they had not assigned metrics to measure success within each area.

After more discussion, it became clear that we would need to address the large-scale issues of culture, waste and quality systems if they wanted to make long-term improvements and achieve their mission. To accomplish this, we would need a strong strategic plan that would enable us to identify high-level issues, prioritize how to address them and establish metrics for success. After the strategic plan is in place, and only then, we could begin with tactical planning, such as laying out departmental plans or considering training. By starting at the most basic strategic level of the company, then creating business and tactical plans from there, we were able to identify more targeted and effective solutions to the root cause issues present in their company. When done in the proper order, such planning can be immensely valuable for driving your company’s high-level goals.

Plan Your Way to the Top
Embarking on the creation of a business plan can sound arduous, but it does not have to be.  There are many tools and templates that can help guide this process, as well as resources like The Center that can facilitate the process from start to finish. 

Many executives claim they do not have the time to sit down with their leadership team and develop a plan, but continued success is not random. It is worth the time invested as companies that continue to operate in a reactive mode with only short-term plans will consistently find themselves out-performed by those that embrace a proactive, thoughtful strategy.

Although it is easy to get caught up in day-to-day firefighting and forget about the importance of planning, it is clear that having a proactive strategy can serve the higher goals of your company, provide a better return on investment and establish more targeted problem solving. When used correctly, these tools can help your company become the Patriots of manufacturing. You might not make it into every Super Bowl, but you will be built to win.

Jamie Headley
Senior Business Solutions Manager

As Senior Business Solutions Manager, Jamie works as an advisor to Michigan manufacturers in the Southwest region of the state, helping them to “manufacture smarter.”  Jamie is a seasoned operations professional with expertise in change management, strategic planning, leadership, process improvement, lean implementations, cost containment and operational excellence. With more than 25 years of manufacturing and consulting experience, Jamie has served as Director of Supply Chain for Catalent Pharma Solutions, Vice President of Operations for and President and CEO of Dementia Services Group.  

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at